BLADE Magazine

Bob & John Horrigan: Brothers In Arms And Blades

Bob & John Horrigan Made Knives Together. After The Former Died Defending The Country, John Kept Their Knifemaking Legacy Alive

It was a night mission, and it was dangerous—just like every mission, every moment in the deserts and villages of western Iraq or the mountains of Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
“You don’t have to come,” the others said matter-of-factly to Master Sergeant (MSG) Bob Horrigan. “You’ve only got two weeks left in the country.” The veteran Delta Force NCO, with 19½ years in the U.S. Army, three tours in Afghanistan, and a fifth in Iraq coming to an end, simply replied, “If you’re going, I’m going.”

True enough, Horrigan was just days away from returning to the USA, and he planned to retire from the Army in six months, then, in peace, to make custom knives in his shop and share that time with his twin brother, ABS master smith John Horrigan.

This night, however, there was dangerous work to be done. A raid was planned on a safehouse known to be frequented by terrorists, particularly Iraqi al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a ruthless murderer pledged to support Osama bin Laden. Horrigan

A veteran Delta Force NCO, Bob Horrigan served 19½ years in the Army, including three tours in Afghanistan and five in Iraq. He was killed during a raid on a safehouse frequented by terrorists, including Iraqi al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bob was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

When the call went out for someone to serve as a master breacher during the mission, blasting doors and first inside a building where hostiles might be hiding, Bob Horrigan said without hesitation, “I’ll breach.” In the town of al Qaim in western Iraq, the Delta Force team, accompanied by additional Special Forces personnel, moved toward the suspected Zarqawi safehouse. With MSG Michael McNulty at Bob’s side and the rest of the team close by, the two were first to enter the enemy compound.

Bob made it into a nearby room, and a machine gun opened up. McNulty was hit in the doorway. Bob was fatally wounded seconds later. Both died within a few hours.
“It was about 7 in the morning. I was at home, and Bob’s brother-in-law, Mark England, came to the house,” John Horrigan recalled. “Our sons were best friends, and I thought he was coming to tell me that my son had gotten into trouble. He said, ‘No, John. It’s Bob.’”
The news was devastating, and Bob Horrigan was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, following a funeral service in Austin, Texas. He left behind his wife, Denise; young daughter, Courtney; older sister, Lisa; younger brother, David; many friends and relatives; and, of course, twin brother John.

To say Bob and John shared a special bond, even as identical twins, would be an understatement. Their mannerisms and speech patterns were so alike, and they experienced the joy of growing up inseparable. They also shared their love of service to their country, and later came a great interest in custom knives.

First Drop Zone

The brothers were born in Limestone, Maine, on Jan. 13, 1965. “I came into the world seven minutes before Bob, so I cleared the drop zone. We always said he was a hung jumper,” John smiled. “We’re identical twins, so I got into fistfights for him, and he got into fistfights for me. It was like the Doublemint®-Spearmint commercial, and it was that way in school and in the Army. He continues to be half of me. He is still here, and I can feel his presence out in the shop now and then.”

John made his first knife in high school. Instead of making a planter as his shop project, he found a piece of O1 tool steel and went to work on the knife. His son carries the same fixed blade today, first with a cherry handle and later with one of maple. For 24 years now, John has worked as a firefighter with the Austin Fire Department, the family’s hometown after moving from Maine to Florida and then to Texas years ago.

John enlisted in the Army in 1984, six months ahead of Bob. The two became Rangers, elite soldiers engaging in demanding training programs and taking on the most hazardous combat operations. They served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and Captain Stanley McChrystal, who later reached the rank of general and commanded American forces in Afghanistan, led Company A.

John spent three years on active duty as an Army Ranger. Bob stayed in and spent about eight years with the 7th Special Forces Group and 9.5 years with Delta Force. Even among the elite of the 7th Special Forces and the clandestine Delta Force, Bob stood out. He attended just about every training school imaginable, including the Basic Airborne Course, Jungle Warfare Training Course, Special Forces Qualification Course, Military Freefall Jumpmaster Course, and several others. In 1987, he competed in the Best Ranger competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, and placed second.

He was a leader of hardened, highly trained military professionals, and among his numerous decorations were the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Legion of Merit, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Expert Infantryman Badge. The full list of his accomplishments during a distinguished two-decade career is literally too long to include in this story.
Several well-known authors have written about his exploits, including Brad Thor, Pete Blaber, Sean Naylor, and George Hand IV. In writing of the funeral of a central character in one of his novels, Thor is actually describing Bob’s funeral, an all-too-real and somber event.

In his book The Mission, The Men, and Me, former Delta Squadron Commander Blaber remembered Bob and wrote, “After unshouldering his ruck, Bob H. scotched forward on his belly. He stopped behind a small pile of rubble. Canting his head slowly, he spied the valley below. His eyes and ears strained to detect any unnatural noise or movement; Bob was focused like a man whose finely tuned autonomic nervous system is programmed to maintain perfect equilibrium between the thrill of the hunt and the thrill of the chase. Bob understood his status as both the hunter and the hunted. He liked it that way … Courage has been called a contradiction in terms, meaning a strong desire to live manifesting as a readiness to die. It described Bob and his mates to a tee.”

During those long deployments to combat zones, Bob stayed in touch with John, mostly via email. “He would send one to me, and I would respond,” John said. “The next morning there was another one waiting for me. Robert downplayed a lot of what was going on. He’d say, ‘Not much happening here … I’m bored.’ But he was lying. They were in firefights every day; he just didn’t want people to worry about him.”

In his book The Mission, The Men, and Me, former Delta Squadron Commander Pete Blaber wrote of Bob Horrigan (above): “Bob understood his status as both the hunter and the hunted. He liked it that way … Courage has been called a contradiction in terms, meaning a strong desire to live manifest as a readiness to die. It described Bob and his mates to a tee.”

Meanwhile, there were those precious times that Bob came home, mostly during the Christmas season, and the twin brothers picked up where they had left off during a prior visit. One of their primary topics was—of course—knives.

$50 Sander

John was 21 when he left the military, and he visited a knife and gun show in Austin with a pair of his own custom knives and a couple of makeshift cardboard wheels under his arm that he used as sharpeners. He met Houston-based custom knifemaker Ed Thuesen, who also owned Texas Knifemakers Supply.

“Ed saw those under my arm and said, ‘Don’t use that crap!’” John recalled. “I told him I couldn’t afford a new sander, and he said that he had a used one in Houston that he would sell for $50, but I would have to drive there to pick it up, and he wanted cash. I said, ‘Deal!’” Later, John bought a brand-new Bader sander and sold the used one to Bob—
for $50.

“I got into knifemaking, and then I got Bob into it,” John smiled. “He mainly made military fighters for guys in his unit, for Navy SEALs or whoever. He had more business than I did.”
At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Army’s Airborne and Special Operations Forces, Bob set up a knife shop in a lawnmower shed. Power was supplied with an extension cord, running through a sliding glass door to the shop’s tools. He enjoyed working with 440C and 154CM stainless steels, but he couldn’t forge on the Army post. Hence, when he needed a piece of damascus, John gladly supplied it.

“He wrote me a letter once telling me how much he loved coming home, coming to the shop and learning new things,” John remarked. “He would tell me that copying someone else was the highest form of flattery, and if you look at Robert’s knives they were similar to the knives I made. But he’s my brother, and I don’t care. Later, he got into his own designs, and now my best-selling knife is one of Robert’s designs.”

That legacy design is the Robert “Bob” Horrigan Military Fighter, available from John today in the notable style that has become popular in the military as well as the general public. The fighter is 11.25 inches overall with a 6.375-inch blade of 440C stainless steel and a handle of black linen Micarta®. The knife weighs 8.7 ounces and is accompanied by a Kydex sheath.

“I actually didn’t make the Bob Horrigan,” John related. “I made my Model 1 and others, but there were some guys from the 160th Night Stalkers who were on the mission that night and asked if I would make the Bob Horrigan knife. Now I make the Bob Horrigan, and I make them the way he did.”

Through the years, John has established himself among the best bladesmiths and custom knifemakers around. His daggers, tomahawks, and fighters are acknowledged as fine work, and his dazzling inlay with precious metals is something to behold. “I tell everybody that is my Picasso work,” he laughed.

Tremendous Spirit

Living quietly in Burnett, Texas, about an hour outside Austin with Donna, his high school sweetheart and wife of 33 years, John works in a 30×40-foot shop on his farm, dotted with chickens, goats, and bees. Donna says the shop is as big as the couple’s first house. They have two grown children, Matthew and Krystal, and two grandchildren, whom they adore.
Reflecting quietly, John observes, “The greatest thing that has happened since Bob’s death is that he brought me back to God, and that is the best thing he could ever leave me. Being twins, it was pretty rough, and it felt like half of me was gone. Bob came to me at the BLADE Show* two years before he was killed and said, ‘I’m coming back to God. At the time I just said, ‘Great!’ but when he was killed, God was what got me through it.

Designed by Bob Horrigan, the Robert “Bob” Horrigan Military Fighter is ABS master smith John Horrigan’s best-selling model. “I make them the way he did,” John said, including a 6.375-inch blade of 440C stainless steel, a black linen Micarta® handle and a Kydex sheath.

“I started living for Robert, for my family and doing what God wanted me to do,” John continued. “I know where Robert is now, and I know where I’m going. Bob killed a lot of people and that worried him. So he went to the chaplain, who told him that the Bible said not to murder. It didn’t say not to kill in defense of your country. So, he was good with that. I don’t think my brother ever had PTSD because he had God.”

John received his ABS master smith rating shortly before Bob was killed, and as he continues to live his dedicated life, he takes comfort in the fact that his brother, who also wanted the ABS designation, knew that John had achieved it.

In recent years, John has made presentation knives depicting the American flag for Delta Force and for former President George W. Bush, whom he met at Fort Bragg during a visit after Bob’s death. He presented the knife to “W” sometime later in Dallas.

John is generous with Honor Flight Austin, donating knives that raised $19,000 at auction, paying for 19 veterans of World War II to visit their memorial in Washington, D.C. At one auction event, he presented a Bob Horrigan fighter to Admiral William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. At an auction the following year, he presented a Bob Horrigan fighter to Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Salvatore Guinta of the 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

During each of these events, John has felt his twin brother right there with him. In service to his country, Bob made men. In the shop, he made knives with lasting, honorable attributes like those who carry them today. Noted John, “The sacrifice of these young men and women is incredible.”

For the elder Horrigan, every day is a tribute to his brother. Their love of the custom knife is an unbreakable link, and to be sure, every knife that John will ever complete carries something of Bob’s tremendous spirit with it.

Read More About The Horrigans

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